After a lacklustre second instalment, which saw Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the hypochondriac giraffe and Gloria the hippopotamus crash-land in Africa, Madagascar 3 rediscovers some of its animal magic.
A circus of performing critters provides the dramatic hook for the usual wise-cracks, and a boo-hiss pantomime villainess generates much-needed dramatic tension.
The setting lends itself perfectly to 3D and directors Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon have a ball contriving outrageous set pieces. The camera swoops as Merman and Gloria teeter on the high wire, Alex tumbles acrobatically on the trapeze and Marty soars out of the barrel of a giant cannon.
Animals ricochet around the screen at dizzying speed and pyrotechnics explode to the infectious beat of Katy Perry’s self-empowerment anthem, Firework.
Eye candy is plentiful but there’s an inescapable feeling that the flimsy narrative has been tailored to the 3D and the higher ticket prices commanded by the eye-popping format.
You could cheerfully distil the plot into 10 minutes - the remainder of Darnell, McGrath and Vernon’s upbeat adventure is glossy, feel-good packaging adorned with rump-shaking musical interludes from Sacha Baron Cohen’s lord of the lemurs.
Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) hanker for a return to New York’s Central Park Zoo.
They leave Africa and head first to Monte Carlo to reunite with the penguins, where the gang has a close encounter with tenacious animal control officer Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) and her scooter-riding cronies.
Alex and co seek refuge on a circus train and persuade Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston), Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short) that they are performing animals too.
Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria nervously train alongside the professionals, knowing they must impress a big promoter in Rome in order to secure a booking in the Big Apple.
En route, Alex purrs affectionately for Gia and the lion helps Vitaly to revive his show-stopping solo dive through a flaming ring.
“It is impossible,” growls Vitaly, referring to his daredevil act.
“That’s why people loved it,” smiles Alex.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is undemanding escapist froth.
McDormand gleefully chews the computer-generated scenery and the script pokes fun at our European neighbours, such as when Mason the chimpanzee quips, “Labour laws are a little more lenient in France. They only have to work two weeks a year!”
Apart from Alex, who enjoys a romance that defies Mother Nature’s grand design (lions roam Africa and Asia, jaguars stalk the Americas), other characters embark on journeys that are literal rather than emotional.
Kids will love the slapstick and high-octane action but parents may find the tomfoolery as tame as the four-legged heroes.
:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 6/10
(PG, 93 mins) Animation/Family/Comedy/Romance. Featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Frances McDormand, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, Martin Short, Sacha Baron Cohen.
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon.